By on June 8, 2020


Seating, fuel economy, and traction: these are the three areas in which the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica and all-new Toyota Sienna will do battle, though neither of these vehicles is a direct match for the other.

In the shrinking minivan segment, the urge to offer everything a buyer might want has led us to this point. Orders opened for the all-wheel drive Pacifica on Friday — a product that Chrysler hopes will give would-be crossover buyers food for thought. In the Toyota corner, standard hybrid power and available AWD greets buyers for 2021. Similar beasts, but not at all identical.

Will seating decide the victor?

It could come down to that. But back up a moment first. The model now available for ordering is not the redesigned 2021 Pacifica, but the 2020 Pacifica AWD Launch Edition — a driveshaft-equipped current-generation vehicle kitted out in Touring L guise (with S Appearance package) that arrives in the third quarter of 2020. Seems Chrysler couldn’t wait to get this feature on the market.

The Pacifica boasts two pros and one con, in that its AWD system is a mechanical one, capable of sending 100 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels, yet still capable of handling the brand’s Stow ‘n Go seating. Make those captain’s chairs disappear. The model’s drawback is that AWD cannot be combined with hybrid propulsion.

Toyota’s gambit is to make every Sienna a hybrid (though not a plug-in), with AWD offered through the addition of an extra electric motor placed atop the rear axle. Eighty percent of the vehicle’s driving force can funnel into those back wheels, operating independent of the engine. No mechanical connection here. Greater efficiency come standard in this rig, but the Sienna can’t make its seats sink into the floor.

However, the center second-row seat can be removed, and the cabin can be outfitted with captain’s chairs that not only slide fore and aft up to 25 inches, as well as side to side, but can also coddle passengers with a limo-like ottoman footrests. Comfort over versatility.

Which combo will win over buyers? That’s for the public to ultimately decide. In the meantime, the Pacifica AWD Launch Edition carries a lofty sticker of $40,240, with 2021 trims and pricing still unknown. Packing a new look and a greater level of standard safety features and convenience tech, the ’21 model arrives in the fourth quarter.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler, Toyota]

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32 Comments on “The Last Minivan Battle? Orders Open for the AWD Chrysler Pacifica...”

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Something tells me that, if I were to genuinely compare these two, the Sienna would win out. “Toyota” and “mini-van” just go together.

    • 0 avatar

      Not being a smart-ass, but do you think “toyota” and “mini-van” go together more than “chrysler” and “mini-van”? Maybe the Pacifica doesn’t count as much but basically when someone says “minivan” the image that comes to mind is of a Caravan.

    • 0 avatar

      Stow-and-Go trumps all.

      I was not aware the Pacifica would retain it in the AWD version. I may actually end up buying that thing, if it has enough economy and tankage for 500-odd miles highway. If it can also be optioned to tow the “big” (4.5K) Uhaul trailer in a pinch, I’m really running out of excuses not to get one…

  • avatar

    I know here in the NE the availability of AWD on a minivan can only help sales, but since few people would expect it these car companies will really have to get the word out to potential buyers

  • avatar

    FCA should offer a hybrid AWD Pacifica, but given that you can’t find the 2WD hybrid on dealer lots, why bother? We’ll see if Toyota can do any better.

  • avatar

    The Sienna’s second row seats are non-removable. For us at least, this is a big deal. We cancelled our pre-order for a 2021, and will check out the new Pacifica when it drops.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The Sienna’s second row seats are non-removable.”

      That’s a surprise, and it’s why I wouldn’t even consider the newer Sedona. I’ll be keeping my 09 Sedona as long as possible, for this reason among many.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, it’s really a gamble on Toyota’s part.

        Besides being uninterested in the hybrid, this clinched the deal for me on looking for a ’20 instead.

        • 0 avatar

          “Besides being uninterested in the hybrid, this clinched the deal for me on looking for a ’20 instead.”

          Yup. We got inches away from saying yes to a good deal on a 20, but then decided we didn’t want the last version of a platform that debuted in 2012. Probably wrong, but there you go.

    • 0 avatar

      If the middle seats can’t be removed, that’s a change. The ones from our 2014 AWD LE are sitting in our garage. The rear seats fold into the floor.

      We bought ours used three years ago just as the Pacifica arrived. I would have been interested in the Pacific but AWD was a requirement. Where we used to live and where we sometimes go, AWD means the difference between barely making it and almost making it.

      The Sienna serves its purpose which is to be a box on wheels to carry what won’t fit into our Focus hatchback or G37S coupe. Power is excellent and gas mileage is low to mid twenties. Otherwise, I’m not that impressed. It doesn’t drive all that well and the info side of the infotainment system, which is all I care about, is crude compared to the 2008 G37S. The speakers for the audio system suck. Maybe the higher trim levels are better.

      I don’t know what the Pacifica does but the AWD Sienna uses run flat tires because there is no room for even a mini spare. On the FWD models, the spare is located underneath, on the right side, even with the sliding door. There is a hand crank inside on the floor to drop it down. That’s so awkward that I’d rather have the run flats. If you can tolerate the loss of space, you could carry a spare from an FWD model inside.

      • 0 avatar

        The location of the spare is awkward, but I’ve had to access it once in the 16 years I’ve owned a Sienna. I cant imagine finding it so difficult that you would stash a spare inside the cabin.

  • avatar

    I think the big question is how much does cargo huling matter to minivan owners? I can say for me (i have an odyssey) it does. If the siennas 2nd row seats were removeable Id go sienna but theyre not and if i want a toyota with a flat load floor a highlander hybrid might be a better choice.

    Hybrid tech aside it seems like the sienna is taking alot from the 2015 kia sedonas playbook. Suv styling (kia took this idea from the 2005 gm minivans) non removeable 2nd row seats and that bridge console. All things that havnt helped the sedona. Well see how it plays out. For 30mpg+ instead of 20 i can see that being worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      Our 2013 Odyssey is really more a farm truck than a family hauler any more. Once the kids trashed the insides who cares?

      Only thing the Odyssey can’t do maybe better than a pick-up for my needs is the one time a year I need bulk mulch. And I just found a guy who delivers bulk mulch for a flat fee of $75 no matter how much I order so that concern is now moot.

      • 0 avatar

        we use our 2004 Sienna the same way. It hasnt had the 2nd row seats installed in 5 or 6 years. Can haul so much more stuff than a truck, other than rocks or dirt or other very dense stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      How do you know that those things didn’t help the Sedona? The minivan segment is collapsing and sales could be even worse w/o those things.

      • 0 avatar

        From personal experience when I got my odyssey in 2015 I didn’t look at the sedona once I saw the 2nd row seats couldn’t be removed. I know I wasn’t the only one who wrote it off for that reason. I liked the styling alot but cool styling isn’t gonna make you want a vehicle that can’t do the job. The bridge console, tiny backup cam screen on low trims and slit 3rd row windows were also tunroffs for me. When you look at the sedona’s marketshare vs the rest of the minivans on the market it’s just gone down since the 2015 came out. New sedonas were a regular sighting 10 years ago, Not anymore but I still see plenty of new pacificas, odysseys, siennas and even grand caravans.

  • avatar

    I hope the fuel tank stayed the same size in the AWD version of the Pacifica?

    The Pacifica’s range is what keeps it on my desirability list. 19 gallon tank with potentially 28 mpg highway.

  • avatar

    “Which combo will win over buyers?”
    I suspect that Toyota would sell more premium priced mini vans, regardless of the merits of the actual vehicles themselves. People trust Toyota more than FCA, and the Toyota buyer doesn’t need to explain their choice to the neighbours.

    FCA can move plenty of vans based on price, but the premium priced trims will be a struggle. Twenty or thirty years ago it was common to see high trim Mopar vans parked in front of nice houses in expensive neighbourhoods, these days if there is any minivan at all in front of these houses, it’s likely to be a high trim Odyssey or Sienna. And I say that as someone who would almost certainly buy a Mopar van if I were in the market.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see how the PTU is able to disconnect power to the front wheels and send 100% of the torque to the rear wheels. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense to disconnect and stop the driveshaft in an attempt to increase MPG, the savings must be small, but I guess if it gets you .05mpg and if that is enough to round up to the next whole MPG that always looks better on the sticker.

    • 0 avatar

      It probably isn’t 100%, more like 98%. But in Jeep vehicles it is done with a progressive or viscous coupling in the transfer case. Like Jeep Quadratrac 1, no low range in case.

  • avatar

    2021 Pacifica gets fresh styling TTAC aren’t showing us.

    The correct photo would get a more reliable survey of the readership.

  • avatar

    Most likely Sienna is gonna be perfect for car service vehicle and family that don’t go to Home Depot. While Pacifica will be use for contractors who also use it for family. One more for people hauler while the other used to move more stuff.

  • avatar

    Do either offer a spare tire?

    I know a couple of people with older Toyota AWD and the run flat tires are a bummer – expensive and short lived.

    One went with a spare tire in the cargo area the other went w/o (and got a flat latter).

  • avatar

    Any six cylinder bites the dust.

  • avatar

    It’s not that “contractors will use the Pacifica”. It’s about flexibility.

    I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve had the middle seats out of the Odyssey. But each time was important.

    Toyota removes that flexibility. The Sienna becomes a Highlander with a lower load floor and sliding doors–that’s it.

    So, Pacifica:

    6/7 people around town, OR
    4 people with all their stuff on vacation, OR
    2 people and tons of stuff or a long couch in back

    6/7 people around town, OR
    4 people with all their stuff on vacation

    • 0 avatar

      you are correct, its a huge loss to no longer be able to remove the 2nd row.

      As a family of 4 tall people tho, the notion of having very comfortable, very rearward adjustable second row captains chairs does have an appeal for road trips. This Sienna could be the ultimate for a long drive.

      We bought a Audi Q7 to replace our most recent van (Oddy). The Q7 is better a much driver, quieter, and generally feels quite premium in comparison.

      But its not really that big inside. Kids miss the space / openness of the second row in the van.

      The third row in the Q7 is almost useless, emergency only AND only small people. Guessing short 12 year olds are the best fit.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    What percentage of Siennas sold are AWD?

    Unless the percentage is much I higher than I assume then why is FCA spending some of their limited resources on this?

    Meanwhile the CVP Caravan which was regularly advertised at under $21k is now being listed/advertised at over $26k. Is this because there is a huge demand for these vehicles so FCA does not have to discount them? Or is it because FCA executives are purposely pricing the Caravan too high in order to justify its execution and to try to drive purchasers to the Pacifica?

    If I was running FCA I would invest around $500 in better parts for Caravan and offer a 10 year warranty and continue to manufacture them for years to come.

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC for some years the AWD option on the Sienna was only available with the top trims. The AWD Sienna became a bit of a status symbol in some communities, usually those that culturally were more likely to observe traditional gender roles with the male as the sole breadwinner. (At least this is what I have observed.)

  • avatar

    Pacifica can send 100% of the torque to the rear wheels? Like any of these single inline to the rear axle clutch AWD things, only if the front wheels are spinning over the ditch you almost plopped into. Still better than nothing I guess. The lack of mechanical knowledge of today’s “pundits” continues apace. And the PR types who feed ’em press releases are just as gormless, assigning front/rear torque split feats of glory to cheap AWD that are mechanically impossible in normal driving.

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